1. There is a correlation between physical health and school health
2. Educational landscapes can reproduce dominant discourses of health
1. The particular model school that I studied invested their model school funding in physical activity (PA). Teachers and staff perceived that such an investment would impact on students’ achievement and enhance their community relations. This investment required a mutual understanding about the value of PA and healthy school space and its relationship to students’ (physical, social, emotional) well-being. Teachers’ conceptions of such a school space was realized through sports:
"I love the idea of kids staying after school and doing a sport. So they don’t have to go home, they don’t have to sit in front of the T.V…. it’s only an hour with one group, an hour with the other, they’re all able to do it, the sign-up sheet was great, so they all want to do it. The parents of the younger kids especially come out. Mothers come, they sit in the stands, they talk, they’re socializing, they’re clapping for their child even if he takes, you know, ten swings at the ball to try to hit it. Everyone’s clapping and the child who, you know, hit the ball finally on the tenth try is running down to first and waving at his mom and is thrilled …. They’re thrilled, I’m thrilled. And I think that this is what it’s all about. It’s self-esteem; they feel good; they feel great."
Students’ enthusiasm for the new PA culture in the school was palpable:
"They have a lot of stuff that you can join. And if you don’t – if you have a team and you don’t make it into one thing, you can go to another thing that you like … like hockey. I wanted to join it, but I didn’t get to it and now I joined the cricket team."
2. Educational landscapes can however reproduce dominant discourses of health. Although well intentioned, certain health initiatives in schools (e.g. the banning of junk food) may construct an idealized healthy school citizen (Fusco, 2007), which might, inadvertently, marginalize families who are not able to provide healthy foods for their children. This can result in moralizing about family choices or lack of responsible parenting.
Teacher 1: And you’ve always been an advocate of kids having nutritious food. I know you’ve talked to a lot of parents?
Teacher 2: Oh, about chips!
Teacher 1: We will tell the parents, you know, ‘Your child had a bag of chips today for lunch. Perhaps, tomorrow they can have….’ Whatever, but like you’ve talked to them and had lots of meetings with parents on this.
Moreover, when PA is recognized only for its functional purposes (e.g., it provides an energy-release, prevents fidgeting, makes student more attentive, improves grades, teaches students about Canadian life), it may eliminate the pleasure children feel in, and through, movement and play (Sutton-Smith, 2001).
Teacher 1: I’ve definitely seen… structured play as beneficial because it cut down on the amount of trouble they can get in at recess, let’s put it that way. So, socially they’re on the same team; so they’re helping each other … So, yeah, it helps, you know, them running around outside they need to burn off of that energy. So when they do come back after recess they are a little more—I don’t know if they’re more focused because they’re not squirming around as much. I can’t decide whether they’re just more tired or they’re more focused. Either way, they’re paying better attention.
Children experience these discourses and are well able to articulate the relationships between PA, a “healthy lifestyle,” and the expertise of the teacher in delivering the health curriculum.
In the after-school activities there’s like a kids club there and there’s like a forty-five minute physical education class, like where you run and everything and the other forty-five minutes you go inside and have a healthy snack and learn about eating healthy foods and everything.
This case study has implications for the practice of PA and health in Toronto’s economically and culturally marginalized school spaces:
1. Teachers can use students’ PA experiences to support other classroom activities and tasks because the physical and social health of the school space supports students’ achievements.
2. School-community partnerships can be enhanced if inclusive PA opportunities are provided, especially for newcomer families, who may feel excluded from school PA and cultural activities.
3. When health is broadly defined in school (i.e., emotional, social, physical) and is valued by administrators, teachers, staff and volunteers, a sense of connectedness may develop that ultimately impacts positively on students’ perceptions and experiences of their educational landscapes.
4. Funding mechanisms (i.e., Model School funding) provides crucial resources for sustaining and growing programs that enhance the physical, social, and emotional health cultures of schools.